"Gringo you die! Gringo we kill you! Kill all of you!" These were the screams that came pouring over the walls and into the Alamo from somewhere out there in the blackness beyond. Screams that crept in and worked their way into the minds and souls of the men inside. Screams that chilled them to the bone even more than the cold dampness of the March night. "Die Gringo! Die!"
"Somebody"s gotta do something about him," sputtered Washington Cottle. "This crap has been going on for the last half hour. One more time and I"m going out there and cut out his damn tongue."
"Don"t let him get your goat Wash. He"s drunk and probably will fall asleep soon," said Antonio Fuentes. Fuentes was one of the dozen local Tejanos who had cast their lot with the Anglos. A convicted thief he had been released from jail by Jim Bowie. And now he, Washington Cottle, and the other Alamo defenders endured the constant eerie taunts of this drunken Mexican soldier.
"Can you see him?" hollered Wash to the man standing watch on the wall.
"I can"t tell where he is Wash," came the reply. "Out there straight ahead of me twenty, thirty, yards would be my guess. Hell he"s drunker than a skunk. He"d have to be to come this close to harass us."
"Die Gringo! You die!" His hollerings were becoming more slurred but less often now. His broken English carried a heavy Spanish accent. "Die! Die! Die! We keel you. Keel all of you!"
Wash Cottle drew his big heavy Bowie knife from its sheath. He was a giant of a man. His brownish long unkempt mane and beard made him look like a lion. His eyes glazed over as he slashed his knife back and forth. "I"m going to shut him up once and for all," he roared.
Then from beyond the darkness came words, not mad ravings, but coherent sentences. The words were in Spanish, not broken English. Their drunken Mexican antagonist"s tone now was solemn and sober, his speech not slurred.
The men sensed that what he was saying now in his native tongue was deadly serious, a call for something. Then suddenly he was finished. The silence became loud.
"What did he say Fuentes?" Wash blurted out. "What did he say?"
But before he could speak the Gatekeeper answered. It was his way of putting Fuentes on notice that Fuentes was not the only one who understood Spanish. "He says that you Tejanos in there that have joined with these Norteamericanos, these filibusters, these freebooters, these mercenaries, these pirates who have come to steal our land, we will kill you and all of your families very very slowly. But if you come over and join us you can save your family and yourself. Come have a drink."
Wash and the other Norteamericanos turned their eyes on Fuentes. He was the only Tejano in this group of men. Fuentes returned their stares.
Antonio Fuentes was a little thin boned man. Wash was a head taller than him. Fuentes"s slicked back wavy black hair and scraggly thin mustache gave him a weasley look. These men knew that he was a convicted thief. Knew that Jim Bowie got drunk and released him from jail.
And these men knew and so did Fuentes that this was the time, the time for Fuentes to prove his loyalty and courage. To prove it to his friend, Jim Bowie. After all Jim had released him from jail to join him in the fight against Santa Anna. He owed Jim. Jim who was lying unconscious delirious with fever in the chapel and would never know what he was about to do here.
There was another reason too. Fuentes knew that he had gotten a fair trial. Not many guilty men would admit that. Knew that he would not have gotten a fair trial under Santa Anna"s system of justice. There he would have been quickly sentenced by a judge, no jury trial. His sentence: twenty years in the Mexican army, a death sentence. For this reason also he had to do this.
"Gringo you die!" Their adversary started his usual taunts again. "Gringo your 'seester' is with us. All of us!"
Wash jumped up and rushed to the gate. "How dare you speak of my sister like that," screamed back Wash. "Open the gate Gatekeeper," he ordered.
"Wash you don't even have a sister," shouted down the Watchman on the wall.
Antonio Fuentes stepped forward in front of Wash extended his right hand palm up. This was his way of demanding Wash"s Bowie knife and his way of volunteering to redeem himself.
"You saying I can"t do it. That I"m a coward," Wash growled.
"No Wash I"m saying that you don"t know the language. I do. I"m the one that has to do this."
Fuentes trembled. He had never killed a man. He would do so now or die trying.
Wash Cottle handed over the knife hilt first and said, "Gatekeeper, let this man out."
Antonio Fuentes walked out armed only with the Bowie knife and melded into the night.
"Donde esta amigo?" shouted Fuentes.
"I understand amigo," spit out Wash. "That goddamn Fuentes has gone over."
"Aqui," was the response. "Tequila aqui."
"Now he"s drinking with him. I understand amigo and tequila. I knew we couldn"t trust him," bellowed Washington Cottle.
The next sounds from beyond were the gurgling sounds of a man choking on his own blood. A man moaning in the throngs of death, the life being let out of him.
"You understand that Wash!" shouted down the Watchman.
The gate opened and Antonio Fuentes re entered the Alamo. No one said a word. Fuentes walked up to Wash and wiped the blood off both sides of the knife on Wash"s pant legs and handed Wash his knife blade first.
"Thanks," said Wash.
"Don"t thank me. Thank Jim Bowie," replied Fuentes.